Generations by COVID: Gen Y – Ready to have the shackles broken

Author: Ashley Smith, Research and Strategy Director

More used to a volatile world than younger Gen Z, Gen Y or ‘Millennials’ are now the largest component of the Australian workforce and thus have the most at stake in the COVID-19 economic fallout and ‘new normal’. Gen Y is a diverse group within itself, split between the younger pure digital natives and slightly older Australians who are more advanced in career and family life.

How have they changed as a result of COVID-19?

This is not their first crisis – in a relatively short space of time Gen Y has been exposed to 9/11, increased global terrorism, global warming and the GFC. As a result, this resilient group has remained largely happy and healthy with no dramatic shifts in core values and behaviours. In fact, certain brand and life values that already define Gen Y, such as social responsibility and the environment, have become even more important.

Gen Y has often been labelled as job-hoppers, moving to chase purpose driven roles and fresh challenges, however this behaviour is more challenging to sustain in the face of prolonged economic recession. They may seek to give up high job satisfaction in return for job security. Whereas saving and security were often compromised for life experiences and instant gratification, we are likely to see a shift in priorities.

What is their dominant motivational need right now? What do they want to feel more of?

Empowerment. This is about feeling more strong, fearless and capable but also less restricted and trapped – ‘ready to go’. Millennials are used to very active lives – often chasing rich experiences, career and family at the same time. COVID has put the brakes on this and they are now ready to have these shackles broken.

Something else they need that sets them apart?

Gen Y is finding the life goal of home ownership particularly challenging versus prior Generations and COVID has made this situation more acute for many.

Top Priorities for Employers?

Be aware that job security might suddenly become more front of mind, especially for younger Millennials.

Gen Y also highly values the motivational need of Belonging in the workplace and remote working combined with furloughs and reduced hours could have them seeking value added ‘reconnect’ tools.

Top Priorities for Brand Owners?

Messaging that taps into the motivational need of Empowerment and supports the feeling of being strong and ‘ready to go’ (whilst avoiding feeling restricted and trapped) will likely resonate. The ‘Good to Go’ campaign by the Queensland Government is a case in point. 

Be conscious of some of the potential for forced COVID-19 value shifts due to economic conditions. Travel and experiential goals may have to give way to security and saving, providing opportunities for relevant messaging.

Top Priorities for CX Strategy?

Millennials are seeking Empowerment – itching to break the shackles and resume aspects of their external lives, however parts of your overall Customer Experience must also meet lower level motivational needs (such as security) for them to feel comfortable in doing so.

This is particularly the case for physical touchpoints.


These core human motivational needs help to explain our behaviour why a person chooses your brand over another brand, engages with a new product or doesn’t, recalls and engages with communication etc.

We can’t detect these motivational needs by asking direct questions they are non-conscious and difficult to articulate for everyday people. As a consequence, our research uses Implicit or ‘System 1’ techniques to identify them.

MindSight® is the tool we use. It is a technology enabled neuroscience tool. Combined with Sprout’s framework templates and expert behavioural scientists, we deliver a significantly deeper understanding of humans and new insights to unlock new opportunities and growth.